Programmatic Misconceptions: Automation Isn't The Same As Choice

At the recent OMMA RTB conference, I was thrilled to speak to a crowd of practitioners ready to take the next step in growing the $5 billion RTB market beyond its legacy in display advertising. While the talk started off addressing the elephant in the room – “What does my job look like two years from now?” – the concepts we covered focused much more on where RTB has to go from here: multichannel, upfront, guaranteed deals. The truth is that the longer-term question -- where do I land? – is answered by the tough decisions we have to make today.

The biggest challenge I encounter is not skepticism about whether the market is going to adopt programmatic.  It has.  That debate is over.  However, there is still debate about what types of players will exist 20 years from now, and especially what programmatic has to do in the short term to realize the potential we all agree on.  How does digital win budgets that were previously allocated to other channels? 



In most conversations about programmatic premium, there is a misunderstanding that as an industry we simply need to automate what we’re already doing. There is a common belief in some that technology has improved the efficiency of media buying, doing away with a total reliance on insertion orders and cutting back on the number of meetings, phone calls and faxes required to buy and sell media and therefore we simply need to rinse, wash, repeat for the rest of advertising.

But let’s put a finer point on it: Full automation is not the end goal.  

No one with any credibility is trying to extract all people and all human decisions from the media buying process.  So, we shouldn’t be talking about automation as if it’s the goal. The goal is to make better decisions -- predictive decisions -- about what ads to put in front of particular user.

We often forget that the beauty of RTB is not that it automated parts of the process. While it did accomplish that goal, the beauty of the advent of RTB was that it created much more choice for buyers in targeting their best audience.  In a single platform, an advertiser can selects from millions of ad opportunities every second across lot of different channels. This has democratized ad buying.  Buyers have more choices than ever, and sellers have access to more demand than ever.

Those of us who pioneered the first ad exchanges were doing so to create choice.  We wanted to enable the inspection of every ad placement so that both advertisers and publishers could simultaneously take more control of the process. 

It’s not that we want to (or even could) do away with the human elements of the process, or even the seller’s right to participate in creating compelling packages for buyers. Instead, the industry needs to find a balance between the old way of doing business and one that takes advantage of the promise of automation without losing any ground on audience targeting.

The long-term programmatic solutions will honor these same principles.  We cannot simply automate the current way we buy upfronts. Using technology and the lessons of RTB, we can create a better system. 

In the programmatic forward market, advertisers and publishers will be able to get assurances that upfronts or guarantees have historically given them, but they will also get more.  They will also get more choice.

Providing programmatic guarantees along with more choice: now, that’s a better goal.  Anything less is simply an iteration.


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